The History Department is pleased to announce its winners of our Undergraduate and Graduate History paper awards. Faculty nominate outstanding papers that they have received during the academic year and a faculty committee selects an undergraduate and graduate paper for special recognition.
The 2021 undergraduate winner was Belle Johnson, whose paper, “More than a Trick of the Light: A Diachronic and Thematic Study of the Palpability of Magic in Ancient Egypt,” was written under the direction of Dr. Julia Troche. Dr Troche describes the paper’s significance and reasons for nominating it in the following:
“It is one of the most impressive undergraduate essays I’ve read in my many years on the contest committee” comments Dr. Blevins, chair of the Best Student Paper committee. Indeed, it was the intellectual maturity and novelty of argument in Ms. Belle Johnson’s paper that led me to nominate it. “More than a Trick of Light: A Diachronic and thematic study of the palpability of magic in ancient Egypt” takes full advantage of Belle’s years of language study in ancient Latin, Greek, and Egyptian hieroglyphs and hieratic, and grasp of nuanced historical approaches. In “More than a Trick of Light,” Belle considers the quotidian realities of magic, known by the term heka, in ancient Egypt by taking a unique tripartite approach, while primarily situating her research in the second and first millennia BCE (including evidence drawn from the Middle and New Kingdoms, and Late and Ptolemaic Periods).
First, she looks at the role of magic from a macro-perspective in the mortuary and domestic realms through a focus on material and architectural remains. Since Belle’s main argument is to show how magic was palpable and embedded in everyday life, she acknowledges the elite, male nature of the evidence presented. To remedy this, she dives into a robust discussion of magic as it related to women in ancient Egypt. Analyzing so-called wands, female figurines, and 2d art. She comments that women might have had more access to magic due to the ritual employment of magic in issues relating to fertility (seen as a woman’s status) and childbirth. She then zooms in on the oft-overlooked human element of magic—that is a close discussion of magicians, specifically drawing on the esoteric Greek Magical Papyri corpus. Though these mostly male magicians were elites, Belle shows how studying magicians can actually speak to how the masses may have accessed magic. She writes, “These magicians, because of their eclectic work, also proved in many ways to be a way for common people to access magic. They worked for the common people, performing spells which reflected the desires and wants of those contacting them, as well as the elite. This dichotomy granted magicians a special place in Egyptian society, serving as a bridge between the classes in many ways, or at least a bridge of knowledge.”
In its entirety, “More than a Trick of Light” provides a novel, well-written, and impressive consideration of magic in ancient Egypt, across different periods, building on critical analyses of material culture, domestic architecture, literature, and inscriptions in Greek and ancient Egyptian. It importantly considers social status, and situates magic as universally palpable and present through novel approaches and perspectives on elite dominated evidence.”
Belle will be attending Indiana University in the Fall, where she received a Teaching Assistantship. There she will continue to pursue her interests in Egyptology.
The Graduate award goes to Dylan Johnson, whose essay, “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Bear? British Russophobia and the Influence of Mass Journalism during the Poles’ November Uprising,” was written under the direction of Dr. Sarah Panzer. Dr. Panzer offers the following assessment of the paper’s argument and significance:
“Dylan Johnson’s essay offers an important new perspective on the evolution of the Anglo-Russian rivalry during the nineteenth century, framed through the twin phenomena of imperial expansion and the emergence of modern mass media. Famously dubbed the ‘Great Game,’ the Anglo-Russian rivalry has been typically represented as a byproduct of the two empires’ contest for economic and political influence in the Middle East and Central Asia, beginning in the mid-nineteenth century. With his close and nuanced reading of two widely circulating British newspapers, however, Johnson convincingly proves that a pronounced sense of ‘Russophobia’ had already become well-established within British public opinion somewhat earlier and in response to events much ‘closer to home,’ namely the Russian suppression of the Polish November Uprising in 1830-31. As he argues, the British media launched a fully-fledged propaganda campaign in response to the nationalist uprising in Poland which, although ostensibly aimed at rallying international support for the cause of Polish independence, actually functioned instead as a critique not just of Russian expansion but of Russia itself. Moreover, Johnson convincingly demonstrates the hypocrisy of British media in its coverage of the Russian intervention in Poland, given Britain’s own increasingly aggressive tactics in India and China. Johnson’s essay is an important and significant piece of research, both for its careful and restrained methodological rigor and for its unique and necessary contributions to the historical literature on the Great Game and, more broadly, the central role played by mass media in shaping the modern British empire.”
Dylan’s paper was written to fulfill his research requirement for his MA. Dr. Panzer has encouraged Dylan to submit his paper for publication after a few revisions.
Both of these papers exemplify the original research that students can do in the History Department. Original research forms the backbone of the historical profession. We congratulate all of our graduate and undergraduate students who conduct such research. If you are interested in competing for this award, speak to your professors about how to write an original research paper and which classes offer you the best opportunity to do so.